General assures Exeter 'we're on the road to awesome'

Retired Army Gen. Charles Luckey '73 delivers good news to Exeter Salutes assembly.

Patrick Garrity
November 9, 2023

Retired Army Lt. Gen Charles Luckey ’73 wants Exeter students to know that, despite all the challenges and injustices the world may present to them, they are on “the road to awesome.”

Luckey’s upbeat message, delivered with zeal to the full student body in Assembly Hall as part of the school’s fifth “Exeter Salutes” celebration, urged his audience to trust that the lessons they learn at the Academy today will make a very real difference tomorrow.

“This institution, this room, your lives — all of you — represent not just the future, but future promise. The things you are learning here, whether you know it or not, are powerful. Powerful.”

The Exeter Salutes program intends to honor and celebrate those who exemplify the Exeter spirit of non sibi through their military service and to raise awareness of the impact their sacrifice has on our community. Luckey is a worthy choice to represent that service and sacrifice. His 43-year Army career began with his commissioning as a second lieutenant when he graduated from the University of Virginia in 1977. He commanded forces at every Army echelon, including in operations in Panama and Iraq. His final military assignment was leading the U.S. Army Reserve Command, a force of over 200,000 soldiers and civilians spanning 20 time zones. He retired with three stars.

But the war stories Luckey brought to Exeter related not to his decades as a soldier but to his four years as an Exonian. He pointed to the balcony seat he remembers sitting in as a prep the day after four American college students were killed by National Guard troops in Ohio during a protest of the Vietnam War. And just as students today worry about the world they are about to inherit, Luckey says he and his peers felt “a little bit of fear, a lot of concern, a lot of worry.”

“Now, I’m going to give you the good news: I didn’t know it then, but I know it now. We were and we are on the road to awesome,” Luckey said. “It didn’t feel like it then. I suspect, because I share the concern, I suspect there are students and faculty who are worried now.” But, Luckey said, the lessons of resilience, curiosity, humility and empathy he learned as an Exeter student and has carried ever since remain core values taught at the Academy today. That, he says, explains his optimism.

“You have the ability in this place, in this time, to develop and grow the intellectual confidence to lose a conversation, to lose a discussion, to be wrong a little bit and in so doing make a new friend, build a new team,” he said. “Driving positive change is about building teams, collaborating, sharing a vision and sharing a commitment to your teammates.”

He left his audience with a request to celebrate Veterans Day and honor veterans’ service by treating gratitude as a verb.

“Be the force that validates the sacrifice. Make it count. Earn it.”